Food security concerns do not justify irrigating 9M acres of CA farmland.

Terra Nova Ranch

Cameron is a first-generation grower with roots in Redding, Calif. who fished as a kid in the Sacramento River. Today, he manages about 25 crops grown across 7,000 acres of farmland in western Fresno County. …

For Cameron, the necessity of preserving aquifers should be considered in concert with the state’s abilities to produce food and fiber. For instance, he once looked at food produced on his farm and discovered that it could sustain the caloric needs of 200,000 people.

200,000peoplefed/7,000acres = 39,000,000hungryCalifornians/x acres

California needs 1.365M acres of farmland to meet its own caloric needs, by whatever means Mr. Cameron used to make his calculation.  I don’t know whether that includes meat and dairy.  Right now, we have 9M irrigated acres.  Of those, about 1.5M are in tree nuts.  Nearly 1M are in grapes for wine and the table.  Almost 1M are in alfalfa for animal feed.

California can make whatever decisions it does about converting our rivers into additional money for billionaires, or into towns along Highway 99.  But none of those decisions are based on food security for Californians.  Every time CA ag makes the argument that it uses water to grow food, it is completely valid to point out that it uses Californian rivers to grow 6.5 times more food than Californians need, a third of it completely fucking frivolous.

When you hear that SGMA may cause farmers to idle 30% of their land, dropping irrigated acreage to 6M acres, you may rest easy.  They will then be growing 4.5 times more food than Californians need.

“Food security” arguments are arguments against using as much water as we do to grow as much food as we do.  A reasonable food security argument would designate 2M acres of land with good water reliability, designate the food it grows for Californians, and create supports and protections for that agricultural sector.  Two to three million acres should be retired to restore groundwater balances. The agricultural State Water Project lands should be retired, so a small tunnel solution to the Delta is workable.  And the remaining couple million acres should be farmed in normal to wet years.

 

 

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Piecemeal land retirement will not be the stable final state.

JFleck tells me that Palo Verde Irrigation district is suing Metropolitan Water District; to thank him for that helpful post, I’ve stolen his picture of PVID’s complaint about one externality:

pvid_v_mwd_02

I’ve written that piecemeal, widely dispersed land retirement will add expensive costs to the land that remains in production. I continue to wonder how that will be handled.  To my deep surprise, at this year’s California Irrigation Institute conference, the growers on the panel about decreased irrigation acreage all expected the same outcome in the San Joaquin Valley. (Jan 30, Session Two)  They thought 30-40% of currently farmed acreage would go out of production, and that every farm would hold their current acreage, but only farm 60-70% every year.  I was shocked.  That’s expensive!  Unfarmed land still has maintenance requirements, but doesn’t bring in any money.  I couldn’t tell whether they thought that was their best option, or whether they simply cannot say out loud that irrigated lands should be consolidated, with some farms going entirely out of business.

I’ve been wondering at that for a while, until Lois Henry raised a new possibility: that John Vidovich would hold all the newly not-irrigable land and that he calculates that water sales will cover the expenses from that land.  It is also possible that he doesn’t intend to pay full costs for the unfarmed lands that he will hold and that they will become nuisance properties.

At this point, I honestly don’t know how the land will be retired.  It is a shame that government involvement is completely taboo.  Government involvement could mean designating a state park, letting current farmers remain on their unfarmed lands for a life tenure, paying current farmworkers to restore habitat.  Government involvement could coordinate land swaps to consolidate farming communities.  But I understand that that might be Stalinism, or maybe Maoism, certainly doomed to failure like everything governments have ever done, and certainly worse than every individual farm in the south San Joaquin Valley carrying 40% of their acreage unfarmed every year.  Seems a pity that a coordinated, planned gentle landing isn’t an option.

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OtPR’s list of dangerous ideas in water management.

The California Water Blog recently created a list of “dangerous ideas in California water“.  Here are a few additional dangerous ideas in CA water management.

  • That conventional growth predictions are immutable and will pose new demand that we must meet.  There are a few predictions for the mid-century that I hear often.  The top two are: ‘California will have 60 million people’ and ‘the rising middle class in Asia will demand meat’.  Neither of those are immutable.  Future tastes (and sources) for meat are a matter of choice, which may not go in a predictable way.  Another possibility is that in two generations, people will simply not get to eat the meat they prefer.  Population size is subject to people’s optimism about the climate future and financial pressures, which are both pretty grim right now.  JFleck writes about de-coupling, in which cities grow without requiring additional water.  Predictions of inevitable growth pressures are not reasons for us to further damage the CA environment to develop more supplies for humans.
  • That water markets are a neutral, non-coercive way to reallocate water supplies.  Water markets are only a neutral way to allocate water supplies if every participant in the market starts with an equal amount of water and wealth.  When that is not the case, water markets do not represent the optimal distribution of water, utils and money. Rather, a water market is a way for the already wealthy to monopolize a good that once belonged to everyone.  Advocating for water markets is advocating for the currently wealthy to get more water supplies.  Water markets are not non-coercive either; remember that water gets sold after the three Ds (debt, divorce and death).  I further note that every single water market advocate that I’ve ever known of is in the wealth class that has the economic leverage to gain water supplies by them.
  • That California should grow all profitable foodstuffs.  Growing nearly any food takes about 3af/acre of land.  Not all foods, even the profitable ones, have equal nutritional and societal value.  Some foods have tremendous cultural value; some are facially ludicrous (sudan grass for luxury Japanese beef*).  The prevailing myths are that all agriculture produces valuable stuffs; that “profitable” is the right way to decide if they are valuable; that having an agricultural sector is a toggle -we either have it or don’t; that world demand for food creates an obligation for California to use all available water to feed an insatiable demand.  We could instead use values (i.e. varied and nutritious, primarily plant-based, diet for all Californians) to set the extent of Californian ag water use.

I may return to this list if I think of additional dangerous water myths.  Hope you’ve been well.  Enjoy your long weekend!

 

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Watching a progressive water platform for the San Joaquin Valley take shape.

I am seeing more local newspaper  op-eds opposing the San Joaquin Valley water dogma than I ever have before.  Part of it is about replacing Nunes, but it also opens the door for new ways of thinking about water If this is the work of the local resistance, you guys are doing a great job. They are feeling the pressure.

The longstanding water dogma of the San Joaquin Valley has been narrow.  The premise is that farmers need more (extracted from the environment), and the only other lens for water policy is farmworker jobs. I don’t pay as much attention to the water quality news stories, but I don’t remember many of them from the Valley before 2011-2016 drought, even during the 2006-2009 drought.  Post drought, I’m seeing a few topics emerge:

These are all relatively undeveloped issues, from a statewide policy perspective.  I am sure locals have been aware and working on these for decades, but at my remove, I haven’t heard anything on water policy out of the San Joaquin Valley besides the standard clichés.  Further, these issues are tremendously susceptible to  the wonder powers of the progressive left: community organizing, developing policy based on science, and throwing money at problems.  Imagine if Nunes and Valdao had spent any effort on these or had brought home any money towards these objectives?  The few issues they have harped on for years are deadlocked; the discussion around them played to exhaustion.

I am inspired by the new themes emerge in the Fresno Bee, the Visalia Times-Delta, the Hanford Sentinel.  I greatly admire Lois Henry’s work at Bakersfield.com.  The local community organizing on drinking water done during the drought is bearing fruit now. There are concrete bills and proposals that California can implement (imagine if the State had constructive local Congressmembers to work with).  The Resistance to Trump is opening new arenas for progressive work on Valley water.  I love to see it. Please let me know if I can help.

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Long foreseeable.

Three weeks after the tunnels received a crucial green light from federal environmental regulators, the $17.1 billion project got a cool reception from nearly 100 growers who farm in the powerful Westlands Water District. Provided with detailed financial projections at a Westlands board meeting for the first time, the farmers suggested they aren’t ready to sign onto the plan.

Investment bankers from Goldman Sachs & Co. said debt repayment could balloon farmers’ water costs to as much as $495 an acre-foot under the most expensive scenario, or about triple what Westlands growers currently pay. …

“My initial thought, right off the bat, is no way this will work,” the tomato and almond farmer said in an interview. “Those numbers might work for a city, Metropolitan and them. For a farmer, none of the crops that I grow can support these numbers.”

I am sorry these farmers are only hearing about these estimates now.  The cost range for this water has been available knowledge for half a decade now.  We’ve known for years that tunnel water wouldn’t be agricultural water.

This is another illustration of how dedication to ideology over reality is penalizing the conservative farmers of the San Joaquin Valley.  The rough price range for water out of the Delta tunnels has been known for almost a decade.  Wise district managers should have relayed this reality to their farmers.  Messrs. Neve and Bourdeau should not be learning about this now.

Instead, the leadership at Westlands continued to pander to the fantasy of additional new low cost water.  Over the years they’ve paid millions into the BDCP planning effort.  (In the end, that may end up being a subsidy for the cities that can take water from a small tunnel alternative.)   I don’t know why Westlands management didn’t explain to their farmers years ago that it was time to cut their losses.  One unflattering possibility is that they were more willing to throw their growers’ money at a project that wasn’t going to deliver ag water than they were to challenge the conservative water management philosophy of the region.  Another unflattering possibility is that the district managers and lobbyists enjoy the lifestyle that their growers support, and aren’t going to tell them unpleasant truths until they absolutely must.  Either would explain bringing in outsiders from Goldman Sachs to explain the real costs of the Delta tunnels.  In either explanation, the management and leadership at Westlands aren’t working in their growers’ best interests.  Even if their growers demand it, perpetuating the fantasy of additional low cost water will not give them the knowledge they need to plan for their farms in the long term.

 

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How Devin Nunes shortchanges his constituents.

Representative Devin Nunes is a stalwart change denier, calling global warming “nonsense“.  He jokes about the dangers that climate change poses to Californians in a blog post today.

This poses two problems.  One is that he is asking his fellow ideologues to join him in a joke that denies their own lived experiences.  Perhaps Nunes has been in DC so long that he doesn’t know how the southern San Joaquin Valley is changing.  But the people who live there can see and feel the effects of climate change.  It isn’t a snide joke to them.

Things that people in CA22 have seen and experienced in the past few years:

What Devin Nunes’ post shows today is that he isn’t paying close attention to his district.  He has grouped “radical environmentalist” and “climate change” into one category and now uses any hint of one or the other to dismiss an entire field of conversation.  But people in his district are feeling real and varied effects of climate change, no matter who they vote for.  But rather than looking at the facts of his constituents’ lives, and listening to them, Nunes writes mocking posts.  This has three effects:

First, it gaslights the people who live in the district, denying their lived experience.  They know damn well the summer nights aren’t cooling off and they aren’t getting enough chilling hours in the winter.  They can see the dead trees in their beautiful mountains.  They aren’t blind, or stupid, but Nunes’ is saying that this collection of experiences is literally nonsense.  That it isn’t happening.

Second, Nunes is denying his constituents their intellectual understanding of what is happening to them.  Some of his constituents know this.  But the implicit trade-off that Nunes is offering his constituents is that they must not understand the things they experience, the change to the Valley that is happening before their eyes, if they want to be part of the conservative Valley identity.  He justifies and personifies an ignorance that means his constituents can’t predict and prepare themselves for a harsher future.  If climate change isn’t the coherent explanation for their cows falling over in the heat, and years of drought, and higher rates of asthma, if those things are unlinked random chance, there is no way to prepare for them and alleviate some future suffering.

Third, Nunes’ post mocks the concept of climate change and calls some of the environmentalist solutions “preposterous”.  But there is a whole suite of reasonable preparations and solutions that the southern San Joaquin Valley will need desperately.  Some of those are best done by government. When the governmental representative is denying the entire concept, I’m pretty sure that he’s not allocating more money to researching tree strains that require less chilling hours.  Governments were needed to manage the thousands of cow carcasses; this is foreseeable, and a good representative could have been working on getting plans in place.  Researching Valley Fever and asthma, planting urban trees, fighting fires, cutting down dead trees in the Sierras to protect communities.  An elected representative that is watching reality closely, with a scientific understanding of the phenomenon, would be bringing money and plans home to the district.  Nunes keeps proving that he will never be that elected representative.

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Trump wrecked Nunes.

Less than a year ago, Westlands and the ag boys of California water had themselves a perfectly good Congressman.  Nunes was able and willing to carry whatever legislation they could develop to advance their water preferences.  But then Nunes found an even bigger authoritarian he could toady for, and Westlands lost their whole investment in Nunes.  Nunes was well-trained and well-placed; he could have done them a lot of good if Trump hadn’t turned his head.  Now poor Nunes is embarrassed, under investigation and won’t talk to the Fresno Bee.  If I were a big ag donor in the San Joaquin Valley, I’d be mad at Nunes for leaving his lane and floundering about.  Now they’re going to have to buy another one, train him up and install him.  What a waste of their time and money.

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